The most violent clash in months between Israel and Palestinian militants continued for a third straight day on Friday, as Israeli warplanes attacked targets in the Gaza Strip and militants fired rockets into Jerusalem and southern Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side on Friday as foreign mediators pressed ahead with efforts to reach a ceasefire. The last few days of fighting have killed 31 Palestinians in Gaza and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.
A burst of rockets from the Gaza Strip sounded warning sirens near the disputed capital of Jerusalem, breaking a 12-hour lull that had raised hopes that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations could soon negotiate a ceasefire. Residents of Israeli settlements surrounding Jerusalem reported hearing explosions and seeing black smoke billowing from the hills after an apparent missile interception.
A rocket hit an open field in Bat Ayin, a settlement south of Jerusalem, said Josh Hasten, a spokesman for the area. Videos showed Israelis jumping out of their cars and ducking under highway rails as sirens wailed.
An umbrella group of Gaza-based Palestinian factions known as the «joint operations room» said they had fired rockets «in response to the killings and continued aggression against the Palestinian people.»
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it was conducting a security assessment. The Israeli army said its warplanes were attacking Islamic Jihad targets in response to the rockets.
Cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza after the Hamas rulers in the territory. Since Tuesday, Israel says its attacks have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with more than 800 rockets fired into densely populated parts of Israel. At the time, Israel’s military said it used airstrikes to attack at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them.
Israeli bombs and shells have destroyed 47 housing units and damaged 19 such that they are uninhabitable, leaving 165 Palestinians homeless, the Gaza Housing Ministry reported. In addition, about 300 homes suffered some damage.
Palestinians on Friday inspected the remains caused by the fighting.
“The dream that we built for our children, for our children, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza whose family home was reduced to a pile of rubble in an attack. air Thursday night. He and his family would have been killed in the thunderous explosion if they had not run when they heard the screams, he said.
“We were shocked that our house was attacked,” she added as she pulled her young children’s dolls and blankets out of a bomb crater.
At least 31 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the fighting, including seven children and four women, according to the UN humanitarian office. At least three of the children were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets, according to the Israeli army and the Palestinian Center for Rights. More than 90 Palestinians have been injured, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported.
The civilian deaths have drawn condemnation from the Arab world and concern from the United States and Europe. In its last four wars against Hamas, Israel has repeatedly faced charges of war crimes due to the high number of civilian deaths and the use of heavy weapons against the overcrowded enclave. Israel, in turn, maintains that Palestinian militant groups use civilians as human shields when fighting among themselves.
Hamas, the de facto civilian government with an army of some 30,000 in Gaza, has sought to uphold its truce with Israel as it tries to prevent dismal living conditions in the blockaded enclave from escalating since a devastating 11-day war in 2021 that killed more than 260 Palestinians.
The group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has refrained from this round of fighting, as it did a similar outbreak of violence last summer. In a sign of restraint, Israel has limited its airstrikes to Islamic Jihad targets.
Both sides appeared to be on the brink of a ceasefire before the outbreak of violence on Thursday. The relative calm on Friday boosted hopes for progress.
Hamas officials told local media that Egypt was stepping up its diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting through «intensive contacts» with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about the ceasefire talks. Senior official Ihsan Attaya complained early Friday that the mediators «have been unable to provide us with any guarantees.» One sticking point has been Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel end its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.
Islamic Jihad political bureau member Mohamad al-Hindi was more optimistic. From Cairo, where he traveled on Thursday to discuss the details of a possible truce, he told the media that he hoped both sides would «reach a ceasefire agreement and abide by it today.»
This week’s battles began when Israel launched simultaneous airstrikes on Tuesday that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes. Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rockets fired last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, on a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.
Airstrikes and rockets have diverted the focus of the conflict back to Gaza after months of escalating violence in the occupied West Bank under Israel’s most right-wing government in history.
Israel has been carrying out almost nightly arrest raids in the West Bank that have killed 109 Palestinians so far this year, the highest death toll in two decades. At least half of those killed are affiliated with militant groups, according to a count by The Associated Press. At least 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis during that time.